It’s weird how confident I am in Craig Kimbrel, given his overall numbers with the Chicago Cubs: 6.00 ERA over 36.0 innings from 2019 to 2020, with a 6.29 FIP, a 14.5% BB rate, and 2.75 HR/9. It cannot be overstated how godawful those numbers are.
And yet, like I said about my confidence, when I see David Ross say this about Kimbrel’s role, I nod along and think, yes, that’s correct (Cubs.com):
Ross said on Tuesday that the expectation right now is that Kimbrel will reprise his role as the closer.
“He worked his way back into being himself,” Ross said. “The videos he’s sent in, he looks really polished already. He’s a veteran guy — knows how to prepare himself for Spring Training. We’ll give him a pretty long runway to get ready. As long as Craig is who we know he can be, he’s going to be our closer.”
As most of you know, what’s lost in those overall numbers with the Cubs is the timing. In 2019, Kimbrel joined the Cubs without a typical Spring Training, ramped up too quickly, was almost immediately injured (knee), and more or less never got physically right. In 2020, Kimbrel once again had no normal Spring Training, was clearly mechanically out of whack in his first four appearances, and the Cubs sat him down to regroup.
Upon his return, the guy posted a 1.42 ERA over his final 14 appearances (every outing but one was scoreless), a 0.98 FIP, and a 53.1% strikeout rate (holy crap). You still didn’t like the 14.3% BB rate, but it came largely because he was so unhittable that very few plate appearances were ending because the guy had put a ball in play. Batters simply couldn’t. He was back.
That was Kimbrel being the guy he was for nearly a decade: the rare reliever on a Hall of Fame track. He was that good with the Braves, Padres, and Red Sox. And given the explicability of his periods of struggle in 2019 and 2020, and then him clearly LOOKING like CRAIG KIMBREL for a month and a half to close 2020, I just have a lot of confidence that he’ll be fine in 2021.
So if David Ross is saying a normal Kimbrel is going to be the Cubs’ closer to open the season, I respond: well, yeah, of course. And he very likely will be normal.
It’s getting hot in here. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/kkwSd5VY9i
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 17, 2020